Whilst we may mourn the loss of longer, lighter days when the clocks go back, there are some distinct advantages when it comes to thinking about autumn foods. Just as the leaves turn red, yellow and golden brown, so the colours of foods change with the seasons.
Eating seasonally also means you are getting the most nutrition from the foods available right now.
Clinical nutritionist, Suzie Sawyer, shares her five favourite foods to include in your diet this season.
It’s often said that pumpkin is the most popular vegetable at this time of year. Obviously, pumpkin plays a starring role in Halloween festivities, but it’s also a real winner in terms of nutritional benefits.
Pumpkin certainly matches the season with its orange colour signalling it to be rich in carotenoids. These are a group of plant compounds particularly high in antioxidants which help protect the body against disease. One such carotenoid found in pumpkin is zeaxanthin which has a wonderful affinity for the eyes, protecting them against blue light (and we all spend far too long looking at screens these days).
Another carotenoid, beta carotene, is turned into vitamin A in the body as required, which helps support the immune system. This is much needed as we come into the cold and flu season.
Pumpkin is best steamed or roasted and served as a vegetable side, but it can also be made into pumpkin pie. Plus, pumpkin seeds are incredibly nutritious; they are very high in the essential omega-3 fats. Make sure you use them – they’re delicious very lightly roasted.
As the weather turns distinctly chilly, the body likes to be fed ‘warming’ foods. The delicious spice ginger delivers so many wonderful health benefits, particularly supporting the immune system.
Ginger is also a natural anti-inflammatory. It can really help ease any stiff, aching joints, which can become more problematic when the weather becomes cold and damp. Additionally, if you’re struggling with headaches, ginger can help provide some relief.
Whilst ginger can be included in so many different recipes, both sweet and savoury, so many health benefits can be gained from using it as a tea. Finely chop some fresh ginger and pour over boiling water and just keep sipping throughout the day. You can also add some lemon to help detoxify the liver at the same time. You’ll certainly help keep the cold outside, as well nasty inside colds, at bay!
Often confused with turnips, swede (or ‘neeps’ as they’re known in Scotland), make a wonderfully nutritious autumn vegetable choice. Swede is actually part of the cruciferous vegetable family. It’s high in immune-boosting vitamin C, as well as other immune-boosting vitamins such as B6, so it’s certainly great for the change in season.
We can often feel sluggish at this time of year and our digestive systems can also slow down. However, swede helps feed the beneficial bacteria in the gut making sure everything keeps moving smoothly through. Moreover, if you’re trying to lose a few kilos before the Christmas party season, then swede is your friend. It helps balance blood sugar levels, it’s high in fibre so will fill you up, and it’s low in fat and calories. Even better, swede is delicious simply cooked and mashed with a little butter and black pepper.
In ancient Ayurvedic medicine, foods were always matched to the season because the body needs to be supported with warming foods and spices as the colder weather bites. Summer salads and smoothies should be replaced with soups and thick broths at this time of year.
This is a great time to be loading up with as many vegetables as possible to support the immune system. Load up with autumnal vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes, parsnips, courgettes and sweet potatoes. Prepare a large roasting tray, drizzle with a little olive oil, add some fresh rosemary and sprinkle with sea salt for a fabulous accompaniment to any fish, meat, poultry or vegetarian protein.
Another warming spice, cinnamon is perfect to include in as many dishes as possible at this time of year. It also seems to have a balancing effect on the body generally, helping it to better cope with the changing seasons.
Cinnamon boasts a wealth of health benefits, protecting the immune system, feeding the good gut bacteria and having positive effects on cognitive function. More benefits are being found all the time.
Even better, cinnamon is incredibly versatile in so many dishes. It works really well with any dishes containing oats, such a muesli, flapjacks and sprinkled over porridge. Cinnamon is also delicious when used in pancakes and muffins or any dish containing apples. It’s even delicious with pork – think apple and cinnamon sauce.
So, try building more of these warming, autumn vegetables and spices into your diet this season. If you’re warm inside, you will not feel the cold outside as much and your body will better cope with harsher weather and seasonal bugs.
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